Can buildings be extra porous, extra open to the vitality of the encircling metropolis? As with the creation of the good city parks of the 19th century, designers immediately are rebalancing the connection between structure and nature, with the purpose of accelerating the standard of life, particularly in city settings.
Sometimes this implies erasing boundaries between indoors and open air, buildings and setting. Instead of the man-made and the natural jockeying for place or dominance, they’re sharing one another’s territory. And sometimes they seamlessly fuse, every remodeling the opposite. This, in any case, is the age of the rooftop farm and the out of doors convention room.
Whether any of those gestures will mitigate the urgent issues of world warming and rising sea ranges continues to be unknown — the repair seemingly requires greater than what one panorama architect calls “boutique wetlands.” But initiatives debuting this fall counsel that onerous limitations between the designed setting and the pure one are softening — perhaps for good.
Raffles City Chongqing
As a scholar in Montreal, Moshe Safdie concluded that people should live in denser settings and that apartments should have room for gardens. These simple observations drove the asymmetrically stacked concrete modules of his most famous work, Habitat ’67, where each unit has a garden that rests on the roof of an apartment below. And that idea informs the latest developments by Mr. Safdie, 81, in Asia.
Opening in phases starting this fall is Mr. Safdie’s monumental Raffles City Chongqing — a 12 million square foot, mixed use complex, that stands at the confluence of the Yangtze and Jialing Rivers. There, his version of man-made nature sits some 50 stories up, a 984-foot-long glass enclosed tube that the developers have named the Crystal. It contains a sky park for a city where, Mr. Safdie explains, “The climate is very problematic: hot in summer, very polluted, cold in winter. “ Inside, all year round, are trees, gardens, and swimming pools for hotel guests, as well as a public observatory. Mr. Safdie noted that people are hungry “to be with nature in the city in any form they can get it.”
The REACH, The John F. Kennedy Center
In striking contrast to the massive, boxy John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts designed in 1971 by Edward Durell Stone — a building Ada Louise Huxtable once called a “superbunker” — the architect Steven Holl has created an addition, The REACH, that is soft and amorphous. It consists of a series of pavilions that emerge at odd intervals from a new three-acre landscape.
This collection of rehearsal, performance and meeting spaces is set among gardens and a ginkgo grove yet so cleverly integrated into the greenery that underground rooms are flooded with daylight (grassy slopes conceal rooftops).
A new pedestrian pathway provides a long-overdue connection to the National Mall and will allow joggers and bicyclists on the Potomac to visit the outdoor cafe or watch a live opera performance simulcast on an outdoor screen. The Reach immerses performers in the environment and lures passers-by. “It gives the meaning of a living memorial a new dimension,” Mr. Holl said.
40 10th Avenue
You can see the faceted black glass from the High Line, just south of 14th Street, or catch a glimpse as you drive along West Street. It looks like an experiment in fractal theory; the mass of the office building appears to just fall away. It’s an effect that the Chicago-based architect Jeanne Gang calls “solar carving,” an approach that has become her signature: she designs glass facades with patterns that appear decorative but address problems like solar heat gain or bird strikes.
For Studio Gang’s first completed project in New York City, the facade was sculpted to prevent it from casting shadows on the famous elevated park next door. This act of architectural generosity came about, Ms. Gang said, because she wasn’t just “thinking about the views from inside the building, but thinking about people’s views on the High Line.”
Roberto Clemente State Park, the Bronx
Tidal pools, found where land and sea meet, create depressions that fill with water and nurture what the landscape architect Signe Nielsen affectionately called “critters.” The Inter-Tidal Pool that the firm recently completed on the Harlem River in the Bronx appears no different, a swamplike setting for minnows, crabs and other fauna — but it is man-made, and accessed by elevated walkways.
In a project to rehabilitate Roberto Clemente State Park, badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy, the firm Matthews Nielsen replaced the battered Harlem River bulkhead with an approximation of how the river met the land before the city existed.
Increasingly common in New York City’s waterfront parks, such engineered marshes — Ms. Nielsen’s “boutique wetlands” — help improve water quality and create habitats. “Each species of critter in the world has a certain radius that it needs to feed and nest,” she explained. Even small patches of habitat can help butterflies or birds survive, as they hopscotch from one oasis to the next.
Designed by five young architects in Barcelona who joined together for a 2015 competition entry, the new Bauhaus Museum Dessau (home of the iconic 1926 building designed by Walter Gropius) is “just a black box with two legs and a glass overcoat,” said Roberto Gonzalez, one of the team, which is now Addenda Architects.
The second level, called the Black Box, is climate-controlled to protect the fragile artifacts (such as drawings by instructor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and student-made collages) on display. The bottom level is designed to blend seamlessly with the city park in which the building sits. Mr. Gonzalez wishes it could be completely open to the landscape but the glass overcoat is necessary, he said, because Germany is often cold and rainy. Otherwise, the architects did everything possible to make the lower level look and feel like public space, concealing most of the structure in the “legs” and installing 20 double doors in the facade. The Bauhaus’s past will be safely contained in the sealed box upstairs, but its “soul” will be free to drift in and out into the landscape.
Casablanca Finance City Tower
Part of the modern Anfa District outside central Casablanca, on the site of a decommissioned airport and adjacent to a runway converted to a linear park, this 25-story tower by the California firm Morphosis is distinguished by a remarkable aluminum exoskeleton. Controlling sunlight and heat gain has challenged builders in the North African city, according to the principal architect Ung-Joo Scott Lee. “Historically there are these really beautiful windows that use carved wood latticework to provide shading,” he explained. Morphosis adopted that strategy, creating a brise soleil of thick aluminum beams a foot and a half outside the tower’s glass curtain wall that keeps the building cool, while preserving views of ocean and old city.
Glenn Murcutt’s reputation and Pritzker Prize are based on the Australian architect’s inventive private homes that, he says, “touch the earth lightly.” His MPavilion (scheduled to open in November in Melbourne’s Queen Victoria Gardens) offers a rare opportunity for the public to experience Mr. Murcutt’s striking brand of regionalism. Like the houses he’s designed since the 1970s, the new seasonal structure is open to its surroundings and sited to take full advantage of its environment.
The MPavilion is, in essence, a tent and was inspired by a lightweight airplane that once took the architect on a trip to see ruins in the Mexican tropical jungle. “We had a picnic in the shade provided by the wing of the aircraft,” he recalled, intrigued by the duality of a small plane made of wood and fabric that could shelter passengers in the air and on the ground. His new building doesn’t fly, but almost looks as if it could.
West Thames Bridge
The graceful steel and glass pedestrian bridge at the hair-raising intersection where traffic pouring from the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel to Brooklyn meets West Street is a curved truss structure of the kind that was popular in the late 19th century. Otherwise, this is a very contemporary bridge that boasts a drainage system that flows into a “rain garden” — a state-of-the-art storm water absorption device installed on the median strip below.
Its mechanical systems are elevated above flood level and protected by flood doors. The bridge, which connects Battery Park City with the Financial District, is symbolically resilient, as well: it replaces a footbridge destroyed during the September 11 attacks, making it one of the last components of Lower Manhattan’s rebirth. Most of all, this little bridge is a nod to the resilience of New York pedestrians, who walk everywhere. “The bridge is more in the trees than you would expect,” said Claire Weisz of WXY Architects (which collaborated with the engineers at Weidlinger Associates). “You’re walking through a tree canopy.”
North Little Rock, AR.
In aerial photos of the terrain surrounding North Little Rock, the landscape architect Susannah Drake, founder of Brooklyn’s DLANDstudio, noticed a slew of oxbow lakes. “It was based on the way the water was moving through the landscape, and the way the water was shaping the river banks and depositing fill over time,” she said. “It created this beautiful pattern.”
The oxbow motif became the inspiration for the amoeba-like shape of plantings in a new town square — formerly a parking lot — for a small city (population 66,000) that aspires to become a magnet for young tech workers. The other part of the design is more hard-edged: a shaded porch-like structure with hanging benches, a giant water wall, a projection screen, and a plaza big enough to hold the local beer festival. A collaboration with Taggart Architects, the square, Ms. Drake believes, winds up being “a reconciliation between natural systems and urban systems.”
Powerhouse at Brattøkaia
The dramatically sloped roof of this new office building in Trondheim is reminiscent of the architecture firm Snohetta’s signature, the Norwegian National Opera and Ballet in Oslo (2008).The opera house’s gently angled roof is built for pleasure; it’s a public plaza and a beloved feature of the Oslo waterfront. The Powerhouse’s roof, by contrast, is calibrated for efficiency. It slants groundward at a 26-degree angle and is equipped to generate the maximum amount of solar power, which will help the building eventually pay back all the energy that was used to build it.
The name Powerhouse reflects the alliance of Snohetta and a variety of construction and real estate companies. The ambitious goal is to take on global warming by building radically efficient buildings — but the project’s lead designer, Andreas Nygaard, said they are not eager to telegraph the building’s heightened functionality. “To most people it will look like another office building,” he said, “which is what we’re trying to do. We didn’t want this to look like something that was built just to harvest energy.”
If you arrive at the Brooklyn Navy Yard by the East River Ferry you’ll immediately notice a long, glassy, 16-story building that bills itself as the “home of 21st century manufacturing in the digital age.” Dock 72 occupies a skinny waterfront site that itself was once a dry dock, which explains the building’s ship-like proportions (although one of its architects, Sital Patel of the firm S9, prefers to see it as a “human ant farm.”)
A collaboration between office-share giant WeWork, the New York landlord Rudin Development and Mortimer Zuckerman’s Boston Properties, the deal was done in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. At the time, the waterfront seemed like a mixed blessing.
Indeed, Dock 72 will be a test of post-Sandy thinking. It hovers above the floodplain on V-shaped columns; sloping ramps provide access to the elevated main floor. The mechanical systems are up even higher and the lower reaches of the building are clad in breakaway louvers and designed so flood water will wash in and wash out. According to Nick Martin, a Rudin spokesman, the building is designed “not just to withstand the storm but to operate the next day.”